As a public school educator, there were so many things that could lure me into a daily habit of focusing on the far-from-positive realities of this work: broken copiers and desks, not enough novel sets in the book room that I desperately want to read with my students, and pretty much limited supplies of everything. Anyone who works in a public school knows what I’m talking about. There’s a lot that needs fixing.
So how do we stay out of the negative minefield and focus on what works, on the miracles of it all?
#1. Laugh with Your Students
Our profession has become highly politicized these days which can be very troubling (public vs. charter, teacher bashing in the media, standards-based rhetoric overkill, etc.) It takes extra energy and effort to keep up boundaries from getting over-involved in these sometimes-crass battles.
So I say, more than ever, humor is a crucial element that can keep us motivated, grateful, and positive.
There’s the middle school science teacher who begins every class period each day with corny science jokes. (“Where do astronauts park their spaceships? At parking meteors!”) There’s the high school world history teacher who dresses up every single day in a period costume. And there’s the third grade teacher who chuckles alongside her students when the opportunity arises. Make time and space in your classroom for humor. Create a comic strip corner or invite students to share funny stories and jokes the last minute or two of class.
#2. Stick with the Motivators
You know these colleagues. Keep them close. These are the teachers who may gripe on occasion or do a twenty-second vent session but then quickly turn to a funny story about something a student told them or tell you about a great teaching strategy or inspiring TEDtalk they just watched. Perhaps this person is you? If so, keep spreading the hope and the positive, and take on the goal of motivating a colleague who you’ve observed in a rut.
#3. Seek New Inspiration
When was the last time you went and observed a colleague teaching? We can spend 15 minutes in someone else’s classroom and pick up a new reading activity, method for grouping students, teacher move or saying, or even an idea for a whole unit plan. Don’t underestimate the power of leaving the four walls of your classroom! How about visiting an elective class or a club? You can enter the room as observer, advisor for the day, or as a participant. Go check out the art class or the lunchtime
computer club. Putting ourselves in the learner’s seat can surprise us, serving to inspire in ways we didn’t expect.
#4. Look for the Light
“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” — William Arthur Ward
This noble profession is full of surprises. Be grateful for the grand and not so grand moments. Sometimes a smile from a shy student, or observing a child ardently pen a paragraph will awaken and warm your heart.
When I’m feeling a little lost and uncertain in this work, I’ll take out the letters from over the years students have written to me and recall each of their faces as I read their kind words. Sometimes we have no idea the effects we are having on our students when we take those extra seconds to check in on them, or nudge them to trust their abilities on those low days, or when we just sit and listen. Those letters, notes, and cards remind me that when I pause and act from my heart, it matters.